The nineteen sixties is surely the greatest decade ever for rock music, because there was so much strength in depth. Of course, the seventies runs it a close second, but not even that could match The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Doors, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones sharing the pop charts together. It was a perfect storm of prodigious talent – the like of which we would see never again – with so much variety held within. Whilst upbeat Lennon and McCartney tunes rang around the airwaves on ‘wonderful Radio One’, the Stones were the perfect foil – especially at the time of Beggars’ Banquet in 1968. This album was one of their masterpieces, sounding deeper and darker than what had come before, yet still possessed of exceptional songwriting and musicianship.
The psychedelic pop of their 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, was a mixed bag, but Beggars’ Banquet silenced the doubters completely. It kicked off a purple period where they would go on to release Let It Bleed in 1969 and Sticky Fingers in 1971, finally stamping their sound upon rock history forever. Oddly, it was also the beginning of the end of the Brian Jones period, who proved less of a presence during recording due to his reported drug and emotional problems. Instead, this album saw Keith Richards become the lynchpin of the band’s new bluesy-rock sound, complete with brilliant production from Jimmy Miller at Olympic Studios, London.
Released on December 6th, 1968, it had much of the attitude of the infectious Jagger/Richards standard Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which had been released as a single a few months earlier but didn’t make it on to the album. Sympathy For the Devil and Street Fighting Man were the two stand-out tracks from Beggars Banquet, whose other high points included Prodigal Son, Stray Cat Blues, Factory Girl and Salt of the Earth. As ever, the line-up was Mick Jagger on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Keith Richards on guitars and vocals, Brian Jones on guitars, Mellotron, sitar and vocals, Bill Wyman on bass guitar, percussion and vocals – and of course Charlie Watts on drums and vocals.
Described by Rolling Stone magazine’s Jann Wenner on its release as a great return to form, he spoke in terms of it being “a great performance… without pretence… an achievement of significance in both lyrics and music.” What was really interesting about it was the ease with which the album plays; it’s the sound of a band no longer trying to follow fashion or be something they’re not. The result is some wonderfully supple, cohesive and emotive playing that the band has never subsequently lost. Beggars Banquet didn’t quite top the charts on both sides of the pond – but wasn’t far off.
Sonically the album is very much of its time, lacking the bandwidth and sheer insight that modern recording techniques bring. Yet there’s still a pleasing tonal patina that gives it a distinctive feel, and the production is arguably better than Beatles releases of that moment. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary, a new Compact Disc version is out this month on Abkco, with both the sound and packaging done to a very high standard.
To listen to Beggars’ Banquet and all of our 2018 album choices visit our TIDAL playlist .